August 19, 2011
Gabriel froze as he felt the ground beneath him shudder. A quick look at Michael and the others convinced him that they were all feeling it. Shine gripped him frantically around the waist and he could feel Sarah’s hand on one of his wings.
“What’s happening?” Shine cried.
Before Gabriel could answer, the entire landscape was overwhelmed with a low, fierce rumbling. The sky erupted into a solid ceiling of flame and a searing hot wind blasted across them all.
“It’s a sirocco,” Gabe shouted. He struggled for a word the humans would understand. “It’s a ghibli, a leveche.”
“It’s a hot fucking wind,” Az supplied, “and it means big trouble.”
“It’s a precursor,” Gabe said.
“A precursor to what?” Sarah asked, shouting to be heard over the primeval roar of wind and fire.
Before he could answer, a massive pillar of flame descended from overhead and touched down in the center of the area, practically blinding them all with its radiance.
Az spun around and drew his wings over his head, cringing away from the fiery light. The other demons were scattered like leaves in the wind, blown out of the light and into the dark recesses of the landscape, their roars of outrage and fear growing steadily more faint until the Dark Ones disappeared completely and took their complaints with them.
Michael sheathed his sword and, with the company of other archangels, turned to face the pillar with his head bowed.
The wind stopped as suddenly as it began and out of the pillar of fire stepped a creature with six fiery wings. One set of wings was crossed over its golden head, another set crossed in front of its body, and the third set – larger than the others – jutted from its shoulder blades and flapped slowly, continuously.
The creature glanced briefly at the archangels before approaching Gabriel and the others. It stopped several yards away as if aware that its fierce light would harm the humans. It stared solemnly at Gabriel for a moment, then Shine, then Sarah and Tawny, and finally Roni.
When it spoke it had the voice of ten people combined, some male, some female, some which weren’t even human. “And so you have come,” it said.
“What is that?” Sarah hissed.
Shine stared in awe. “It’s a seraph. It’s one of the highest order of angels in heaven. It’s like the boss of all angels.”
Gabriel motioned for the girls to be quiet. He returned the seraph’s gaze with a steady look of determination. “I know I can’t win, Metatron,” he said, “but I’ll still fight you. You’ll have to kill me to get to the child.”
The seraph nodded. “You are truly a wonder, Gabriel,” Metatron said. “I am gratified to be chosen for this task.”
Knowing the futility of trying to fight the seraph, Gabe waved his sword nonetheless and said, “Then come try it, Metatron. I won’t go easily.”
Metatron gestured. “Put away the weapon, Archangel. There will be no more fighting here today.”
He turned to the group of archangels. “Michael, step forward.”
Michael raised his head and stepped proudly toward the seraph. “I am here, Most High One,” he said.
The seraph regarded him stoically. “Michael, you have been the Father’s best soldier since the beginning of time. You have performed tasks for the Father which were so egregious that your brethren shied away. You are the best of your kind. But you are blind in your obedience.”
Michael looked at the seraph in surprise. “But Most High One –“ he began.
“Search your heart,” Metatron interrupted. “Tell me of one instance when events took place that were outside the will of the Father. Tell me of one instance when events unfolded in a way unexpected to the Father.”
Searching the ground as if the answer was somewhere around his feet, Michael remained silent.
“You called Gabriel disobedient,” Metatron continued. “Is there no room in your philosophy for those who carry out the will of the Father, even when they aren’t aware that they do so? Even when it seems in contrast to what you perceive as His holy will?”
Metatron turned back to the bloodied, tattered group pressed tightly around Gabriel. “Some souls sent to teach the population were unprotected. Not so with this child. The Father tried you, Gabriel. He tested you and you prevailed. You were sent to protect the child and you have done so. She has divine purpose in her world and will live to fulfill it.”
Reaching out his fiery hand, Metatron pointed at Shine. “The child has the women now, the mystic and the mother. They surround her and will protect and teach her how to survive in their world.
“You, Shining Light of Heaven, will return to earth and grow among the populace with your new guardians.”
Shine squeezed Gabriel tightly around the waist. “I don’t want to go without you,” she wailed to him. “I won’t! I won’t go without you!”
Metatron ignored her. Pointing at Roni, he gestured for the snowy white man to come forward.
Roni padded fearlessly towards the seraph, stopping a few feet away and looking at it expectantly.
Metatron said to him, “We offer you a choice. You have earned a place in the light of the Father. You have only to take my hand and you can join us in His magnificent presence. Or you can return to earth with your humans and finish out your short life as an animal. What do you choose?”
Without hesitation, Roni turned and began walking back toward Sarah. By the time he reached her side, he was a dog again. He sat at her feet and licked her hand.
“A noble creature,” Metatron commented. “The finest work of our Father resides in him.”
Metron pointed once more, this time at Az. “Demon Asmodeus,” the seraph intoned. “Step forward.”
Az’s voice was muffled by his covering of wings. “Ah, if you don’t mind, I’ll just stay right here,” he said.
“Demon Asmodeus,” the seraph repeated with infinite patience, “step forward.”
“I am so screwed,” Az muttered. He lowered his wings and took a cautious glance at the seraph. He stepped warily around Gabriel and inched forward. “Look, Most High One, I gotta tell you, I was just helping the dude out,” he stammered. “It’s not like I did anything except – you know – what I always do. You know. Snagging dirty souls and stuff.”
“Demon Asmodeus,” Metatron said, “you have made yourself an outcast among your own kind because of your affection for this archangel.”
Az shrugged. “Yeah, well – yeah. It does kinda suck to be me right now, I gotta tell you.”
“The Father offers you protection.”
Startled, Az stared at the seraph. “Protection?” he repeated.
“You can rejoin the heavenly hosts just as you were before the Fall. You can rejoin the host of Golden Ones and leave the Dark Ones behind forever.”
For a moment, with the light from the seraph’s fire shining on his face, Gabriel could see the Asmodeus who was his brother before the Dark Times, before the Fall. Gabriel studied Az’s handsome, unblemished face and felt tears fill his eyes at the childlike hope he saw in Az’s expression.
“I can be an angel again?” Az asked softly.
Az turned and looked at Gabe, then looked around the archangel and locked eyes with Tawny. He stared at her a minute, then turned back to Metatron. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, and don’t think I don’t appreciate the offer. I mean, I’m probably gonna want to kick my own ass over this, but – “ He shrugged. “I think I’ll stick with what I know.”
The demon returned to the group and stood looking down at Tawny. Her hand came up and rested gently on his chest.
“Step forward, Gabriel,” Metatron instructed.
Gabe unwound Shine’s arms from around his waist and approached the seraph. A brilliant white light engulfed him, flaring so brightly that the humans were forced to turn away. When they turned back, Gabriel stood before them unwounded, his pale skin shining with a silver glow. His wings were fully formed again, resplendent and iridescent.
“Your place among the host is exalted now,” Metatron told him. “Come, take your place with me beside the Father.”
The archangels around them turned to Gabriel and dropped to their knees in reverence. Gabe stared at them almost sorrowfully. He walked over to Michael and touched the archangel on the shoulder. “I know why you did what you did,” Gabe said softly. “I love you, my brother.”
With his head hanging low, Michael reached up and grasped Gabe’s hand in both of his and brought it to his lips. “You are among the Most High, brother,” he whispered. “Forgive me for my doubt.”
Gabe shook his head. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
Turning back to Metatron, Gabriel said, “Let me make sure I understand this. These two women and Shine are going back to their lives, right? With the bag of money?”
“And I guess the dog and Az are going with them.”
“As they have chosen,” Metatron said.
He walked back to the group and took Sarah’s face in his hands. His magnificent glow engulfed them both as he kissed her lips. Releasing her, he knelt and gathered Shine into his arms.
“I love you, Heaven’s Shine,” he said.
“I love you,” Shine wept. “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
Gabriel pulled away from her and caressed Shine’s face. “I guess there’s only one thing left for me to do,” he sighed.
He searched the ground around them until he spied his leather duster. Picking it up, he shook the dust out of it and began to pull it on, struggling to tuck his huge wings under it. Then, taking Shine by the hand he looked at the others.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“Archangel, do you understand what you are doing?” Metatron called after him. “You will be an outcast among your kind and among theirs. Not a human, not an exalted host of heaven. An outcast.”
Gabriel looked over his shoulder at Metatron. “I understand.”
“There is no turning back after this,” Metatron intoned.
“I understand,” Gabriel repeated. He looked at Sarah. “Let’s go home,” he said.
With one arm around Tawny and holding Roni’s leash with the other, Az fell in behind Gabe, Sarah and Shine. “Dude, we’re totally screwed now, both of us,” he whined. “For fuck’s sake, couldn’t you have bargained a little? You know? You were holding all the cards, man. Shit! Someone take this damned dog, he’s biting me!”
August 13, 2011
Sarah moved away from Tawny and, taking Roni’s hand, put him next to her friend. “Guard her,” she said.
Roni’s brow furrowed with worry, but he inched closer to Tawny and leaned against her. He glanced at the surrounding demons and snarled.
Ruffling his white hair, Sarah said, “Whatever happens to me, you guard Tawny, okay?”
Roni threw his head back and howled briefly, inconsolably, then leveled his azure gaze at Sarah again.
Sarah stepped toward the battling angels. “St. Michael defend us,” she said in a steady voice. Her eyes were locked on the glowing Archangel. “St. Michael defend us in battle. St. Michael defend us from the wicked and protect those we love.”
Michael froze with his sword in mid-arc. He looked over his shoulder at Sarah in surprise.
“St. Michael, protect those who fight for our preservation,” Sarah continued. “Hear my prayer, blessed guardian of the embattled. St. Michael save and defend Gabriel.”
A murmur of shock and consternation rippled through the half-circle of Archangels standing around Shine. The demons were more vocal about their displeasure.
“Don’t listen to her!” Moloch cried. “Kill him!”
“Spill his guts!” Belphagor screamed.
Az looked on, puzzled. “What the fuck, man?” he muttered to Tawny. “What the fuck is she doing?”
Tawny glanced sideways at Az, then did a double-take. His dark membranous wings stretched protectively up and around them both. She touched his shoulder once, tentatively, before Roni wedged himself more insistently between her and the demon. She tried to reach around the tall man to touch Asmodeus again, but Roni deftly kept himself between them.
Az looked at Tawny’s in surprise when she touched him. He reached out to her, but Roni snapped viciously at his fingers.
“Okay! Damn! Chill the fuck out,” Az hissed.
Michael stared at Sarah for a moment, then turned back to Gabriel and lifted his sword again.
“St. Michael, save us from the wicked and preserve those who would defend us,” Sarah prayed loudly.
The archangel swirled around again. “What are you doing?” he shouted at Sarah.
Gabriel scrambled out from under Michael’s sword and fumbled on the ground for his weapon. The sword vibrated with power under his touch and he grasped it with two hands.
“I’m saying the only prayer I ever knew,” Sarah told Michael.
Michael turned in time to parry Gabriel’s sword. He took a step back under the force of the blow.
“I told you that you’re not a fit guardian,” Gabriel spat. “In fact, as guardian angels go, you pretty much suck right now.”
“You tell him, Bro!” Az yelled.
“They are tricking you,” Moloch growled at Michael. “It’s only a distraction, a cheap ploy. Kill him, Warrior Angel! Kill the traitor!”
Covered with his own blood and swinging wildly, Gabriel advanced on Michael, driving the golden angel backward the way Michael had done to him earlier. Michael parried every blow, his face set in concentration.
“You said you saved her,” Gabriel continued as he swung repeatedly. “Is that why she was battered and raped and torn when she came to me? She would have died, but it was me who saved her. Me. Is that the measure of how you save those who pray to you? And what about the dog? What about the dog, Michael? Did you save him, too? Yes, I’m sure you did. He bears the scars of your brand of ‘salvation’.”
“I am not a guardian of dogs,” Michael shouted angrily.
Locked in fierce battle, the angels moved around the center of the crowd. The group of demons stirred eagerly, incited by Gabriel’s blood. The demon Rangda, smelling of incense and spice, leaped forward and grabbed at Moloch’s arm.
“Why are we waiting?” she screeched. “Let’s take the women now. I will have a piece of each.”
“We are constrained by agreement,” Moloch said, pushing her away.
Rangda’s long tongue hung from her mouth and slithered on the floor. “I will not wait!”
Without warning, Roni rushed the demon and they fell to the ground together.
“Roni!” Sarah cried.
Tawny turned to Az and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Help him!” she pleaded. “Please, help him!”
Az stared Tawny’s hazel eyes. “Ah, shit,” he whispered. “I am so fucking screwed.” He pressed his lips against hers quickly and briefly, then pushed her toward Sarah.
Gabriel could only glance in the direction of the demons as he and Michael engaged. He saw Az leap into dizzying fray of limbs and wings, and then step back holding Roni by the arm. Bloody and torn, Roni snapped at Az, trying to free himself and get back to the fight. Gabriel knew that the demons would tear the dog to pieces. In his man form, the dog was even more vulnerable. He heard Sarah wail Roni’s name.
He glanced to his left and saw Shine still standing quietly between the archangels. Their eyes met and he saw the depth of fear in her. The sudden rage that swept through him made it hard to breathe.
Lifting his weapon and swinging with all of his power, Gabriel knocked past Michael’s upraised sword and landed a blow across the archangel’s armored chest. This time, the blow staggered Michael. The golden angel fell and a gasp went up from the company of angels around them.
Without a moment’s thought, Gabriel jumped over Michael’s prone form and ran to Shine. He scooped her up and rushed over to Sarah. “Stay together,” he told them.
Sarah stared at his wounds in dismay. “Gabe – “
He cut her off. “Just stay together, Sarah! Tawny, you too.”
Gabriel waded into the mass of snarling, writhing demons. With Az by his side, he found Roni fighting savagely under several Dark Ones and together they pulled the white man to safety.
He waved his sword at the demons. “So help me, I’ll gut the next one who moves,” he shouted.
Az and Gabriel, their backs turned defensively to each other, edged themselves and Roni over to join the women.
“I hope you realize how fucked I am,” Az muttered. “I’ve pissed everybody off now.”
Gabe nodded. “Join the club, my friend.”
The group formed a tight knot in the center of the crowd, the women and Roni protected by the upraised wings of the angel and the demon. Shine broke away from Sarah and pushed past Gabriel’s bloody wings to wrap her arms around his waist. “Gabriel,” she sobbed, “Gabriel! You’re dying, you’re bleeding to death.”
Michael got to his feet and, together with the rest of the archangels, advanced. The Dark ones, unable to attack the others in the presence of the fiery archangels, howled and gibbered and cursed on the periphery. Gabriel knew that if just one of the archangels backed away, nothing would hold Legion back except whatever fight he and Az could give them. He felt weak and dizzy as his blood pooled on the ground around his feet, but the sword still vibrated in his hand. He hoped Az would take the women and run if the fight ended the way he now believed it would.
“The child is correct, Brother,” Camael said. His face was twisted with sorrow. “You chose to live as a human and now you’re dying like a human.”
“What is wrong with you?” Michael shouted at him. “Why didn’t you smite me while you had the chance? Have you lost your courage? Have you lost your heart?”
Gabe nodded. “Yes, Michael,” he panted. “I’ve lost my heart. I lost it to these humans you’re so scornful of.” He smiled painfully. “And I would do nothing differently if given the chance to begin again.” He gestured at the archangels. “Come on, then. Let’s end this.”